If we leave compulsory education aside, people have always learned a language out of a special need and for a special purpose. This could be the need to communicate with someone who does not speak a shared language about something «specific», for example, a tourist who needs to ask someone for directions, a hobbyist who wants to find out more about his favorite subject on the internet, a business person who needs to attend meetings with international partners, or a technician who needs to order parts from a catalogue that is only available in one specific language. So, what do we mean exactly when we say English for Specific Purposes then? What is the difference between a general English course and an ESP course? Interestingly, despite being long established, this has always been debated, even in a recent IATEFL-TESOL discussion, held in February 2012, and the definitions of ESP have not only changed over time but different definitions have existed side by side. In the beginning, teachers often thought that in ESP courses, teaching specific vocabulary was their task. However, in many situations adult professionals know the technical terms related to their field much better than the teacher, who often does not know the field-specific terminology. What learners need is to learn how to use those words in sentences, how to understand authentic texts with certain field-specific expressions, or how to communicate effectively in typical situations that arise in their jobs. This is why the analysis of needs, discourse genre, and linguistic corpora has become so important in ESP. However, it is still the case that a lot of the language adult ESP learners need will not be much different from general English, and indeed, the line between both is often blurred. First, it was emphasized that in ESP needs analysis was of paramount importance. However, being influenced by ESP, even in general English courses, a needs analysis is carried out now more and more, especially with the shift to a more learner-centered approach in teaching. Despite this fact and the ongoing discussions, it is generally understood and accepted that there is a difference between the two. Anthony mentions that «some people described ESP as simply being the teaching of English for any purpose that could be specified. Others, however, were more precise, describing it as the teaching of English used in academic studies or the teaching of English for vocational or professional purposes». In 1991, Dudley-Evans and Johns said «ESP requires the careful research and design of pedagogical materials and activities for an identifiable group of adult learners within a specific learning context». Context, situational practice, cross-cultural issues, authenticity of communication and materials, and needs analysis are terms that come up in various definitions of ESP  offer an extended and flexible definition based on Steven’s.
̶ESP is defined to meet specific needs of the learners;
̶ESP makes use of underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves;
̶ESP is centered on the language (grammar, lexis, and register), study skills, discourse and genre appropriate for these activities.
̶ESP may be related to, or designed for, specific disciplines;
̶ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that of general English;
̶ESP is likely to be designed for adult learners, either at a tertiary level institution or in a professional work situation; it could, however, be for learners at secondary school level;
̶ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students; most ESP courses assume some basic knowledge of the language systems.
This definition can serve as a framework that can encompass various ESP contexts .
Variations in definitions have also to do with the different needs of learners in their workplace. A large airline company, for example, offers English lessons to their technicians. However, after looking more closely, at what they needed, it turned out that most of the technicians only needed to know the English words for the parts of an airplane. In fact, the internal training material for new technicians was a mix of the L1 for the grammar and all the non-technical words, and only the technical words were in English. In another department, however, technicians need to understand more complex English texts, when reading original manuals supplied by various aircraft components producers. These employees need to learn English grammar, sentence structure, etc., as well as the technical terms. This also shows why needs analysis is so essential in ESP.
Over time, some areas of ESP have come to be seen as separate, such as EAP and Business English. In fact, this manifests itself even in this book, where there is a separate chapter for EAP and even these areas have split up further. There is, for instance, ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) such as English for Medical Students, English for Science and Technology, and English for Law. Also, Business English has split into more specific areas such as English for Human Resources, English for Banking, and English for Secretaries. So, it seems that the «Sin ESP has become more and more specific over time, which leads Dudley-Evans and Johns (1991) to remark that «there is a dilemma about how specific the business and vocational English courses should be…».
Having discussed what ESP means, we can now look at how technology is used in ESP and BE classes, and how this relates to the definitions of ESP set out above.
Technology use in ESP.
A look at the program of an ESP conference in 2011 shows that several sessions was about how to use certain technologies in ESP lessons. Does this show a new trend of more technology use in ESP, or has technology always been integrated in ESP courses?
A brief history of technology use in ESP.
Just as in general English language teaching and learning, technology in its various forms has long been used in ESP, whether in the form of a tape recorder or sophisticated digital technology. But maybe its impact on ESP has been more profound . ESP teachers have always used available tools to devise materials and create situations relevant to their students’ needs. However, technology’s role in language learning in general and in ESP in particular, has changed over time and significantly so in recent years. Not only has the view of learning changed with time, from the behaviorist to communicative to an integrative view, but technology has also evolved and become more ubiquitous in everyday life, and particularly in the professional world.
1. Grosse and Voigt, 1991; Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998.
2. Arno, Solar and Rude, 2006a.